Jezebel Killing the Prophets
When we read a text like 1 Kings 18:4 about Jezebel killing the prophets, it is not surprising that what comes to mind is the religious persecution that our contemporary world knows so well. But John Monson offers us a different perspective from the ancient world in his 1 Kings commentary in ZIBBCOT.
The polytheism of the ancient world was an open system—there was always room for more gods, and if a god was deemed to be active and powerful in the region, it was logical to acknowledge that deity. This was not an issue of theological ideology; it was a matter of practical necessity. People worshiped gods by caring for their needs, such as providing food for them. As a result, the deity would not become angry and the attention he received brought benefits to the people.
The familiar story in 1 Kings 18 offers clear evidence of Yahweh’s power over Baal, but much greater perspectives are available when we understand some of the ancient Near Eastern context in which the story operates. John Monson offers clarification in his commentary on 1 Kings in ZIBBCOT.
Fire is the clearest possible indicator of the divine presence, an impressive theophany. The irony of Yahweh’s victory is all the more potent when one considers the Canaanite religious tradition that Baal controlled lightning and rain. In one passage from Ugarit, Baal states, "I understand lightning, which not even the heavens know."1
V. Phillips Long on Ancient Kings Chosen By Deity
The stories of Saul and David in the Bible make it clear that the Lord was the one who chose the king, and the people expected him to do that. This is not unique to Israel. The king was the earthly representative of deity and therefore was designated and put on the throne by the deity. Phil Long offers some of the perspectives from the ancient Near East on this matter in his commentary on the Books of Samuel in ZIBBCOT.1
In brief, the king’s anointing expressed his vassal relationship to the Great King, from whom his authority was derived, under whose protection he stood, and to whom he was beholden. Not only in the Bible but generally in the ancient Near East, "royal authority was seen to have a heavenly origin and destiny; where authority was at issue, the gods were believed to be nearby."2
Hannah’s Prayer (1 Sam. 2) by V. Phillips Long
Hannah’s prayer in response to having given birth to a son (1 Sam. 2:1-10) is full of concepts reflecting the realities and beliefs of the ancient world. Phil Long in his Samuel commentary in ZIBBCOT clarifies a few of these below that deal with views of deity and, especially views of kingship.
The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up (2:6). The conviction that the fate of human beings is in the hands of God (or the gods) runs deep in ancient Near Eastern cultures. In the Akkadian creation epic known as the Enuma Elish, we read the following lines: "Thou, Marduk, art the most honored of the great gods, Thy decree is unrivaled, thy word is Anu [i.e., it has the authority of the sky-god Anu]. From this day unchangeable shall be thy pronouncement. To raise or bring low—these shall be (in) thy hand."1 From the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope comes the following: "He [the deity] tears down and builds up every day, he makes a thousand poor as he wishes, and makes a thousand people overseers, when he is in his hour of life."2
The Philistines by V. Phillips Long
One of the most obvious uses of background studies is to help readers learn more about the peoples of the ancient world that are mentioned in the Bible. And what group could be more intriguing than the dreaded Philistines. Phil Long provides information in his Samuel commentary in ZIBBCOT.
"Don’t be such a Philistine!" For centuries in the English language, and still today, the word "Philistine" has been used as a term of opprobrium. To be called a Philistine is to be branded as uncultured or concerned only for the material and the commonplace. Given the biblical depiction of the Philistines as Israel’s archenemies during the periods of the judges and the early monarchy, it is not surprising that they have been viewed negatively.
Gideon’s Fleece by Daniel I. Block
Practices that appear in the Bible may at times seem very strange to us. When we encounter them we may at times supply our own intuition to what they mean as we seek to interpret the passage. In a case such as Gideon’s use of a fleece, we may even infer that since his strategy was successful, that it can stand as an approved procedure today. Before we draw such conclusions, it would be wise to examine the ancient world to see if we can understand more about this procedure. Daniel Block offers these thoughts in his Judges contribution to ZIBBCOT.
Ancient Burial Practices by Dale Manor
When Ruth pledges to Naomi "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:17), her words are pregnant with far-reaching implications. To understand these we must examine ancient burial practices. Dale Manor provides a good foundation in his Ruth contribution to ZIBBCOT:
The Bible often refers to death as being gathered to one’s people (cf. e.g., Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33; Num. 20:24, 26; Deut. 32:50), and Jacob and Joseph gave specific instructions that their remains be conveyed to the family homeland (Gen. 49:29–32; 50:24–26). These requests are apparently not unique to the Israelites. Archaeology has uncovered a number of cemeteries, many of which yield evidence that the deceased passed away elsewhere and their bones were interred in the cemetery some time after death and decarnation had occurred. Ruth 1 gives no indication that Naomi brought her husband’s and sons’ remains back to the family plot in Bethlehem, but if she had not, she likely was returning with them on this journey.1
The Altar on Mount Ebal by Richard S. Hess
It is quite rare for archaeology to actually excavate something that is referred to in the Bible. A few examples exist where the ruins of a building are believed to belong to something mentioned in Scripture (for example, the possibility that the Temple of Baal Berit mentioned in Judges 9 has been excavated at Shechem; or that Omri and Ahab’s palace has been located in Samaria). One of the more recent finds that has been identified with what is referred to in the Bible is the Altar on Mt. Ebal. In his Joshua contribution to ZIBBCOT, Richard S. Hess evaluates the evidence:
Our Understanding of Judges by Daniel Block
Sometimes to understand the Bible, it is not the translation of a word that we need, but the translation of an idea. The very name of the book of "Judges" is a case in point. When we read the English word "Judge" certain ideas are associated with that word. This is not a bad translation of the Hebrew word, but the Hebrew word does not carry the same Ideas with it. We need to probe the ancient world and the biblical text to discover what the role of these judges was. In his Judges contribution to ZIBBCOT, Daniel Block brings some clarity to our understanding.
The Walls of Jerico . . . and When Archaeology and the Bible Disagree
One of the most remarkable events recorded in the Old Testament is the collapse of the walls of Jericho. Here would seem to be an ideal opportunity to bring the testimony of Scripture and the testimony of archaeology together. Unfortunately the attempts to do that have not been as satisfactory as we may have hoped and have occasioned quite a bit of controversy. In his Joshua contribution to ZIBBCOT, Richard S. Hess offers some thoughts for us to consider.
The Ten Commandments . . . in Context
When the Law stele of Hammurabi and other collections of legal sayings from the ancient world were found, it was noticed that there were parallels to many of the specific sorts or laws that were scattered through the Pentateuch, but that most of them were phrased in an "If … then" sort of formulation. Nothing was found anything like the Ten Commandments in these documents. The use of negative prohibitions seen in the Ten Commandments, however, can be observed in the treaty stipulations. This suggests that the Ten Commandments are functioning less as law per se and more as stipulations to the Covenant between God an his people. At the same time, other sorts of documents were identified that had content that paralleled the Ten Commandments. In his ZIBBCOT entry in Exodus, Bruce Wells writes:
The Pig as Unclean—Leviticus 11
Modern readers are often mystified by the dietary regulations placed upon the ancient Israelites. Common popular suggestions that these were instituted to protect the Israelites from disease do not offer satisfying answers since disease could just as easily be contracted from improper storage and cooking of "clean" animals. In addition, it would then be hard to explain the lifting of the prohibitions in Peter’s vision in Acts 10:13-15. More productive are the investigations of the ancient world and cultures. We find that many of the unclean animals can be associated with the realm of death—a place of uncleanness. Others such as the pig, can also be associated with particular ritual practices in the ancient world. In his Leviticus contribution to ZIBBCOT, Roy Gane writes:
Of all animals in Israel’s environment, only the pig has cloven hooves but does not chew cud. "With this one exception, all unclean animals could have been excluded simply by the requirement that they have cloven hooves."1 So the rules in Leviticus 11 implicitly single out the pig for exclusion from the holy Israelite diet.